MEN’S & WOMEN’S WORLD TOUR REVIEW

After beginning 2008 as Asian Sportswoman of the Year, she acquired in Malaysia a life-long title of even more gravitas – that of Datuk.
 
This is roughly equivalent to becoming a Dame in Britain, and still has associations – even in this materialistic age - of spirituality and grace. David has managed to hang on to those. “Just call me Nicol,” she said. “It was a bit of a shock.”
 
Just in squash terms, her best achievement so far this year has been regaining the British Open. So commanding was her performance that it was hard to believe there had been so much self-searching after letting slip a match point against Rachael Grinham in last year's final.
 
This time David was never in difficulty, winning 9-1 10-9 9-0 against Jenny Duncalf, the surprise finalist who had ended Grinham's defence. And she did it with an evolving style.
 
“She exhausted her opponent with her power and her earliness to the ball,” coach Liz Irving said. Incongruous though it may be to think of the neat and nimble dasher in this forceful way, David had indeed become more assertive.
 
She admitted after her triumph that she had been devastated to lose in Manchester last year. The devastation in Liverpool in May was inflicted upon others, and by her. One game only was dropped all tournament - and that was to Shelley Kitchen, whilst David was avenging herself for last October's World Open defeat.
 
The men's winner, by contrast, had to battle to the limits. But then no-one is more used to doing that than David Palmer, who saved two match points in the 2002 World Open final and five in the 2006 World Open final, and now saved two more against James Willstrop.
 
“I came here just wanting to find out whether I could still compete at this level,” Palmer said. He managed that, and more, with an 11-9 11-9 8-11 6-11 13-11 victory in one of the greatest finals.
 
Willstrop recovered with great courage from two games down to lead 9-6 in the fifth, at which stage Palmer's nerve, steadiness and capacity to think on his feet underlined him as perhaps the best player since the Khan era more than a decade ago.
 
It was the 32-year-old Australian’s fourth British Open title. Add his two World Open titles, and he has a better record in high profile events than the two other modern greats - Jonathon Power of Canada and Peter Nicol of Britain.
 
Earlier Palmer overcame an oddly indifferent Amr Shabana in the quarter-finals; the other charismatic Egyptian, Ramy Ashour, departed in tears after a miserable second round loss to Mohammed Azlan Iskandar which raised doubts about his future.
 
“I feel I am abusing my body,” Ashour murmured, referring to injuries in a foot and both hamstrings. “If I keep going like this I won't last two more years.”
 
It had looked so different when the year began. A two-month injury lay-off had put Ashour in decent enough shape to capture to Tournament of Champions title in New York, beating Willstrop 11-7 13-11 11-9 in the final in January.
 
“It's unbelievable to win here,” Ashour said. “When I lost last year in the semi-finals to Shabana I was depressed big time.” But by the following month, when Ashour won the Canadian Classic with an 11-2 11-9 8-11 11-8 win over Shabana in Toronto, the pains were returning, along with the depression.
 
Ashour wasn't the only sufferer. Natalie Grinham also injured a foot, causing her retirement in the Apawamis Open final in February against David, the two leading players' first showdown of the year.
 
There was Egyptian success here too, Omneya Abdel Kawy overcoming both Rachael Grinham and Duncalf, going on to a career highest ranking of seven. And the surge of the Egyptians continued.
 
Six out of eight of the British Junior Open titles went their way in January, and Karim Darwish won the Oregon Open in late February. It was the thirteenth title of his career and, perhaps more significantly, his first since marrying Engy Kheirullah.
 
But it was Willstrop who was enjoying the best form of his life. The Englishman won the Swedish Open and went on to defeat Greg Gaultier, the World No.1, 11-6 6-11 11-9 8-11 11-4 in the Davenport Pro Championships final, at Richmond in Virginia.
 
And still the big man charged on. A fortnight later in March he won the Canary Wharf Classic, his sixth title in seven successive final appearances, though by now he was a tired man and struggled to survive against an improving Cameron Pilley. “That was extremely painful,” Willstrop admitted.
 
The week before Nicol David had won the Malaysian Open – which was hardly a surprise but often a relief, given the level of expectations there. She overcame Natalie Grinham, who was still not in top shape, by 9-4 9-2 9-2.
 
By April Shabana had been World No.1 even longer than David – twenty-five months, the longest by anyone since Jansher Khan a decade previously.
 
This landmark was followed by Shabana losing to Ashour in a five-game final of the Hurghada International, though he reversed that result in straight games in the Kuwait Open the following week.
 
Nevertheless Shabana was unable to win the ATCO Super Series Finals showdown in May against a revitalised Gaultier. “I've been working on a lot on things recently and it's starting to work,” the Frenchman said a little mysteriously after his impressive straight games win in London.
 
In June, the Women’s International Squash Players association announced that it would adopt point-a-rally scoring to 11 like the men - the first scoring change in the history of women's professional squash. But there were even bigger changes in the men's game.
 
Richard Graham was appointed the Professional Squash Association’s Chief Executive, with Alex Gough becoming its Chief Operating Officer, retiring from the Men’s World Tour aged of thirty-seven.
 
“I want all professional squash players to have realistic expectations of earning a good living,” Graham said, causing hopeful gossip. But soon David was recapturing the limelight.
 
She did that with her sixth successive title, the Seoul Open, overcoming Rachael Grinham 9-5 10-9 9-6 in the final in July. More significantly it was her twenty-eighth title, putting her ahead of Rachael and every active player for the first time.
 
Only Susan Devoy, Sarah Fitz-Gerald and Michelle Martin in the women's game have ever won more. And David is still only twenty-four. More records beckon.

By Richard Eaton
Nicol David has been expanding the horizons of squash like never before. Completing two unbroken years as World No.1 and achieving the most Women’s World Tour titles by any active player were as little compared with what she has been able to celebrate in the wider world.